General Education

Washington Monthly: Rating the Rankings

Washington Monthly: Rating the Rankings
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Noodle Staff February 8, 2019

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Each fall, a variety of publications release their lists of the best schools, the most ubiquitous of which comes from U.S. News & World Report. So why is Harvard University #1 according to U.S. News, while Forbes thinks it's Williams College and Washington Monthly claims U.C. San Diego is the best in the land?

School size and type aside, publications use different measures of quality when assigning rankings. Furthermore, two publications may use the same measure (for example, retention rates) but value them in different ways (e.g. 15% at U.S. News but 6% at Forbes) when assigning ratings.

The most common measures used for school rankings in 2011 were test scores, retention/graduation rates and the student/faculty ratio. And the similarities pretty much end there. Publications use all kinds of measures and many of them don't overlap. So who does what? We decided to take a look behind the rankings....

Today School Rankings: Washington Monthly

Who It's For: Students concerned with social justice and cutting edge research

What They Look At:

Percentage of students recieving work study grants for community service jobs

Research Spending

Percent of students who have served in the Army or ROTC

Number of alumni who have served in the Peace Corps

Percent of students receiving Pell Grants

Number of national awards/recognitions given to students, faculty and alumni

Level of education attained by the faculty


Washington Monthly's rankings are the most unique of any we came accross. Their rankings focus on socio-economic diversity, institutional research and innovation, and community service. While this combination isn't a mainstay of conventional academia, it highlights schools that are likely to be interesting and fertile intellectual environments.


The specificity of their measurements means that their rankings indicates that they'll either be tremendously relevant or irrelevant to students, depending on their backgrounds, academic goals, and interests.

Their Top 5 National Universities:

University of California -- San Diego

University of California -- Los Angeles

Stanford University

University of California -- Riverside

Harvard University

Their Top 5 Liberal Arts Colleges:

Berea College

Morehouse College

Bryn Mawr College

Spelman College

Swarthmore College

Choosing a college is about much more than rankings. Find out which schools are a good match for you with our [College Wizard!]()

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